I’d like you to take a second and think about this: how many times a day do people ask you to do something (at work, at home, at your kid’s school….)??. I’ll give you some examples:

  1. One of your colleagues has just asked you to go out for drinks on Friday night after work. You’re already exhausted and want nothing more than to go home and have an early night.
  2. You are about to go on your lunch break when a colleague asks if you can help him fix a technical problem on his computer before you take your break.
  3. An old friend has just started his own business and wants you to design his website (preferably free of charge). You really don’t need any extra work after 5 pm.

Sound familiar? This happens more than once a day, right? Now, how many times would you like to answer their questions with a big fat NO?? Almost every time, correct?

Then why is it that we struggle so much with this simple two-letter word? We get roped into doing things for which we don’t have the time and/or energy (or that we simply don’t WANT to do), all because of our fear of the word NO. Telling someone that, actually, you do not want to join the company’s netball team / become president of the PTA committee / organize this year’s Christmas party, feels like you’re letting them down…and they’ll never forgive you for it. Saying NO makes us feel selfish and rude,

The English language doesn’t help in this regard: English is all about being indirect, because heaven forbid we might offend someone. And what word feels more direct and offensive than NO?

So, let’s look at ways to get you out of all these awkward situations and find polite ways to turn someone down, without making you or them feel bad.

Make a statement of regret

When you do turn someone down, always let them know how deeply sorry you are (even if you’re not). Use simply phrases like:

  1. I’m sorry, but…
  2. I’d really like to, but…
  3. I wish I could, but…

Give an explanation

People are less likely to be offended or hurt if you give them a good reason for why you can’t do something.

  1. I’m really busy with other projects right now.
  2. We out of town that weekend
  3. I have to help out at home in the evenings.
  4. I don’t think I’m the best person to help you with that.

Offer an alternative

In order not to seem rude or selfish, you might want to offer an alternative solution to the problem, to show that you are willing to help.

  1. Can I help you with that tomorrow? I’ll have more time then!
  2. Maybe ask John, he knows more about this stuff!
  3. I can do it once a month instead of once a week?

To finish off, here are a few more phrases to (politely) say no to different things:

Polite ways to say no to a request
I’d love to help you, but right now I’m really busy with…
I wish I could, but right now I need to focus on…
Normally I’d be able to, but right now I have to….

Polite ways to say no to invitations to social events
That sounds great, but….
I’m sorry I can’t that night. I have to….
I really appreciate the invite, but…

Polite ways to say no to an offer
I appreciate the offer, but…
That would be great, but I’m already working on…
Thank you for the offer, but my schedule is full at the moment.

We hope this helps you feel more confident and less awkward next time you have to say the dreaded NO to a colleague, friend or other conversation partner. As always, English to Go is here to help if you need more English coaching on any topic. We’re here to help you reach your professional or personal goals!

One thing people always tell you to do when learning a language is ”go out and talk to people”! Now, this is not always easy under normal circumstances (where do I find the time and/or native speakers to talk to??), but the current Corona nightmare has made it virtually impossible to go out and mingle. BUT…does this mean you should give up on your English goals? Absolutely not! We’ve put together a list of things for you to do at home to keep up your English studies, so once you’ve read this post…you’ll be out of excuses!

Keep a journal in English

A journal doesn’t mean exploring all your deepest and darkest thoughts. It can be as simple as writing down what you did that day, things you heard about on the news, a conversation you had with a friend….anything goes, as long as it’s in English!

Watch TV

Being stuck at home is not fun, but it does give us a great excuse to BINGE on Netflix series as much as we like (you’re actually being a responsible citizen by staying at home and watching TV right now)!! Of course watching TV should be relaxing, but if you can find the motivation to watch a series in English, this is a fantastic way to improve listening skills, vocabulary, pronunciation, learn new idioms, etc. Try a few episodes of Friends, Seinfeld or The Simpsons to get you started!

Play video games in English

Again, not something I would normally recommend as a language teacher, but desperate times call for desperate measures! And believe it or not, playing video games – particularly role-playing games and/or multi-player games – can actually help you improve your reading, listening and even speaking skills through the amount of dialogue they contain. You might even make some new friends, especially if you’re brave enough to use a feature like TeamSpeak, which allows you to join conversations so you can chat with the online virtual community! Talk about casually improving your speaking skills!

Use online materials

This almost goes without saying, but of course there’s a huge amount of online study material out there for English learners, not to mention the number of apps for your smartphone. The British Council, BBC English, FluentU and many others all have endless pages of grammar and vocabulary worksheets to keep you busy for weeks on end.

Listen to the radio

I know, radio is old-school…still, it’s a great way to improve your listening skills (and learn new vocab), especially if you’re too busy to sit down at a computer and focus on online lessons. Instead, just turn on the radio and listen while doing other things like household chores. Don’t think you won’t learn anything: our brain is great at multitasking and will actually (passively) take in a lot more than you think!

Read a book or newspaper

Again, terribly old-school…but effective! Don’t pick anything too complicated (especially if you’re a beginner), something light and easy (even children’s books!) will do just fine. Reading is not only good for your English, it’s also a great way to relax during these stressful times!

Find an online conversation partner

Modern technology allows us to talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere…so why not find a native English speaker to have a chat with on Skype once in a while? There are heaps of websites out there that can help you find a language partner – have a look at this page to find the best ones: https://www.lifewire.com/free-language-exchange-websites-1357059

Do an online fitness course

Another problem with being stuck at home…we don’t MOVE enough! No more walks to a friend’s house or bike rides to work. Fortunately, YouTube offers us plenty of options for staying active at home. Again, getting some exercise (especially something like yoga) is a great way to relax and switch off after a long day of sitting at your desk.

Keep attending your English To Go classes!

This one should have been number one of course, but I think it goes without saying that English To Go is still here for you!! We are still providing online lessons via Skype and will do anything else we can to help you keep your English going during this difficult time!

Last but not least, I highly recommend making a study schedule (preferably one that includes all of the above activities) that fits into your daily working-from-home routine. The current situation makes it even harder than usual to stick to a routine, so make sure you think through your days carefully and – if possible – block 30-60 minutes each day for self-study!

Good luck and if you need support…you know where to find us! We are still here for you!

(scroll down for a short list of vocab from this post!)

This week, we thought we’d spend some time on common mistakes that we often hear in our classroom – don’t feel bad, you’re definitely not the only one who makes them – hence the word COMMON!

English and German are quite closely related, which is a blessing and a curse: it makes it easier to pick up new words (there is a lot of overlap in vocabulary), but it also makes it easier for little errors to sneak in as we tend to translate word for word….which doesn’t always work out!

The good news, however, is that most of these common mistakes are so easy to fix! So, do you catch yourself saying any or several of the phrases below on a regular basis? Our hope is you won’t anymore after reading this post!

 

1. We see us next week!

A literal translation of wir sehen uns.

In English, we simply say ‘’See you next week!’’ or ‘’We’ll see each other next week!’’.

 

2. You can dance, or?

Oh how wonderfully simple tag questions (yes, that’s what these are called) are in German….just put oder at the end and there you go! In English, things are a little more complicated!

You can dance, can’t you?
It’s nice weather, isn’t it?
You’re German, aren’t you?
He’s not at work today, is he?

As you can see, we repeat the verb and subject that were used in the first part of the sentence, only we make it negative/positive (if the first verb is negative then the tag question is positive and vice versa).

 

3. What means “ceiling” in German?

This is an error in sentence structure. In English, questions are formed with do or does. So this sentence should be:

What does ‘’ceiling’’ mean?

Actually, if you’re looking for a translation of a word, you would say:

What’s the German word for ‘ceiling’?

 

4. On the bottle stood, “Toxic.”

Again, a literal translation of stehen. However, in English we use say for information on signs, labels etc. So this sentence should be:

On the bottle it said: ‘’toxic’’.

 

5. This is a photo from my dog.

Last but not least, a preposition error. We take (or look at) photos OF someone/something, not from:

This is a photo OF my dog.

 

Of course, there are many more typical errors we could discuss here (we’ll do a Part II of these at some point), but if you can manage to eliminate these five from your English (if you make them at all, of course) that’s a great start!

 

Glossary

common (adjective) – gewöhnlich

These birds are not so common nowadays.

hence (adverb) – folglich

The building is being redecorated. Hence all the mess everywhere.

blessing (noun) – die Gnade

Her son was a great blessing to her.

curse (noun) – der Fluch

Having to work is the curse of my life.

overlap (noun) – die Überlappung

an overlap of two centimetres.

 

 

 

 

Making small talk is always a dreaded topic for many language learners. Going up to (semi-)strangers and making conversation can be daunting in your native language, let alone in a foreign one. In a previous post, we’ve already given you some pointers on this topic. However, this time I thought we’d dig a little deeper and look at one particular small talk ‘’technique’’: finding out what you have in common with the other person.

You may not realize it, but in almost any casual conversation we compare ourselves to our conversation partner: we talk about our likes and dislikes, places we’ve visited, things we can or can’t do, etc. A very basic example of how to do this in English would be:

A: I went to Luigi’s for dinner last night. I love their pizza!

B: Me too!

As you can see (and probably know) we can often simply use ‘too’ to express agreement in English. However, to avoid overusing ‘too’, let’s look at other options.

NB: in all the following examples, A and B are two ‘people’ having a conversation!

 

A: I am German                    B: So am I.

A: I can speak French          B: So can I.

A: I should go home soon   B: So should I.

A: I would like to go there   B: So would I.

 

As you see, instead of too we can also use the structure So……I / he / she / we etc. in this case, we ‘echo’ (repeat) the verb that the first speaker used.

In the examples above, the verbs are modal verbs (i.e. will, should, can etc). If person A used a different verb (i.e. a non-modal verb), we use the auxiliary verb DO to make the answer.

 

A: I like pizza            B: So do I.

A: I work here          B: So do I.

A: I play soccer         B: So do I. 

 

And what if person A made a negative statement, i.e. a sentence with not in it? In this case, we replace SO with NEITHER.

 

A: I don’t like pizza            B: Neither do I.

A: I can’t speak French      B: Neither can I.

 

Are you still with me? If your head hasn’t exploded yet from all this information, keep reading…but if your mind has been blown, maybe take a break and read the rest later! 😉

So far we’ve shown how to express agreement with your conversation partner. But what if you don’t agree with him or her? What if you hate the pizza at Luigi’s? Let’s look at how to deal with this.

 

A: I am German                            B: I’m not.

A: I can speak French                  B: I can’t.

A: I won’t go home soon             B: I will.

A: I wouldn’t like to go there      B: I would.

 

As you can (hopefully) see, we use the negative form of the verb which person A used to show disagreement (examples 1 and 2). If the speaker made a negative sentence, we use the positive form (examples 3 and 4).

And again, the same rule applies:

If the verb is NOT a modal verb (= would / could / should /will / might / may / can), we use the auxiliary verb DO to make the answer.

 

A: I like pizza                         B: I don’t.

A: I work here                       B: I don’t

A: I don’t play soccer           B: I do.   

 

If you’d like to test your understanding of this grammar topic, try this little QUIZ by completing the sentences with an agreement or disagreement (answers at the bottom of this post!).

 

1)       I love Italian food.

_________________________ . I eat pasta at least twice a week!

2)       I wish I could play the guitar, but I can’t.

_________________________. But I can play the piano!

3)       I like London a lot.

_________________________. It’s too crowded and noisy for me.

4)       I have been to Paris several times.

_________________________. But I would love to go sometime!

 

We hope that this post has made it a little bit easier for you to find common ground with your conversation partner next time you’re in a ‘small talk situation’! As always, we’ll sign off by reminding you that the team at English To Go is here for you for all your grammar (and other English-related) questions!

 

 

Answers:

1: So do I (agreement)

2: Neither can I. (agreement)

3: I don’t (disagreement)

4: I haven’t (= I have not). (disagreement)

Recently, we’ve talked a lot about topics like language learning strategies, how to stick to your study plan, finding (and keeping) motivation, etc. Today I thought it was time for a post with some ‘proper’ language content, in this case: vocabulary!

We’ll look at some confusing word pairs that even trick native speakers, simply because they are written or pronounced almost the same, yet have a (completely) different meaning!

In this post, we’ll discuss just a few examples (including German translations!)– we’ll save the rest for another week, so watch this space for part 2!

Enough chit-chat – here we go!

 

1) accept vs. except  

(etw annehmen/akzeptieren vs. außer)

To accept something means to ‘agree to receive something’ or to ‘believe something is correct’.

‘’He gratefully accepted the present’’

‘’She didn’t believe him at first, but eventually she accepted the story.’’

Except means ‘not including’.

‘’I work every day of the week except Sunday’’.

 

2) lose vs. loose

(etw verlieren vs. locker)

To lose something means ‘to not have something anymore / be unable to find it’, or ‘to not win’.

‘’I hope our football team won’t lose another game’’.

‘’I always lose my keys’’.

Loose (pronounced with a hard /s/, not /z/!), means ‘not tight’.

‘’I have lost a lot of weight, so now my pants are too loose!’’

 

3) affect vs. effect

(auf jdn/etw auswirken/beeinflussen vs. Auswirkung/Effekt)

The meaning of these two is actually the same, but they’re used differently in a grammatical sense. Affect is a verb, whereas effect is a noun. Have a look:

‘’Smoking has a negative effect (noun) on your health.’’

‘’Smoking (negatively) affects (verb) your health.’’

 

4) compliment vs. complement

(Kompliment vs. ergänzen)

If two things or people complement each other, they complete each other.

‘’My colleague is good at dealing with customers, while I’m better at solving technical problems. We complement each other well.’’

Giving someone a compliment (or to compliment someone) means to say something nice to someone about, for example, their appearance.

‘’I gave my friend a compliment on her new hairstyle.’’

 

5) bear vs. bare

(tragen/ertragen vs. nackt/bloß)

Again, these two are pronounced the same but mean completely different things.

Bear (not the big scary animal, but the verb) means to endure difficulties.

‘’I can’t bear to see my friend in so much pain’’.

Bare, which is an adjective, means ‘naked or uncovered’.

‘’You cannot enter this church with bare arms or legs’’.

 

6) stationary vs. stationery

(ruhend vs. Büroartikel/Schreibwaren)

Can you even spot the difference between these two? It’s just one letter, hidden in the middle (a vs. e) and yet these two have nothing to do with each other in terms of meaning!

Stationery is everything you have on your desk to write, such as pens, paper, staples, etc.

‘’Teachers tend to need a lot of stationery’’.

Stationary, on the other hand, means ‘not moving’.

The car crashed into a stationary vehicle’’.

 

Unfortunately, these are just a few examples of English words that tend to confuse absolutely everyone – it takes a lot of hard work to know all of them!

The good news is that, when speaking English, it’s easy to get away with not knowing which one to use – native speakers do this all the time! After all, it’s often impossible to hear the difference.

However, if you find yourself writing a lot of English emails, for example, it is necessary to know these word pairs well to avoid making mistakes.

We hope that this post has made you more aware that tricksters like these exist so that you hopefully catch yourself before making a mistake!

Stay tuned to our blog for more English tips & tricks! 😊

 

It’s that time of year again: we’ve all eaten (and drunk) a bit too much at Christmas, spent too much money on presents and our last trip to the gym was…well, a long time ago. December and all its festivities simply tend to get in the way of personal goals! Which is why January is the time of year when many people, myself included, tell themselves to get back on the wagon and set a long list of New Year’s resolutions. These often include health and fitness goals like losing weight or exercising more, financial goals such as saving money, but also goals related to personal development, for example learning a new skill or language! Of course we sincerely hope that learning English is on your list for 2020! 😊

Now, writing down your goals is not that big a challengefollowing through on them, on the other hand, is a whole different story. Few of us succeed in sticking with our New Year’s resolutions for more than a month or so, as life simply gets on top of you sometimes. This is why we’d like to offer a few tips for turning your 2020 goals into reality!

 

  1. Set a goal that motivates you

Make sure the goal you set is important to you and only you – so many times we try to achieve things just to please other people or because of peer pressure / societal pressure, which is not a good motivator!

 

  1. Don’t set too many goals

A common mistake in resolution setting is having too many. Learning 25 different languages, 15 new job skills and eliminating 5 bad habits may sound great, but we are not superheroes. We only have so much time and energy and money to spend on self-improvement, so having too many resolutions is bound to make you give up altogether. It’s better to tackle one resolution well than multiple resolutions poorly.

 

  1. Be specific

When it comes to setting resolutions, it’s easy to set bad goals that could lead to nothing. Fortunately, the SMART goal setting strategy can help with this. We’ll use English as an example goal to illustrate how SMART goals work.

SMART goals are:

Specific – For example: ‘learn how to write better emails in English’ is more specific than ‘improving my English’.

Measurable – For example: I will learn 10 new English words every week.

Attainable – For example: learning 100 new words every week is probably pretty hard to do. Learning 5 or 10, however, is doable.

Relevant – Keep it relevant to your priorities and goals. See point 1!

Time-sensitive – give yourself a time-frame or deadline. For example, I will aim to take (and pass) an English proficiency exam in September.

 

  1. Write down your goals

While it’s great to have goals, it is essential to write them down somewhere in some way. Here are four reasons why:

  • They are easy to forget!
  • Writing down your resolutions helps you clarify what it is you want to achieve. It forces you to make decisions and be precise with your words.
  • Having your goals in writing is a constant reminder to take action.
  • Written goals are a reminder of how far you have come and what you have achieved.

 

  1. Share your resolutions with others

It’s great to make a resolution for yourself and maybe even write it down, but if no one else knows about it, it’s easy to forget about or even ignore. And when you don’t achieve it, no one will notice or care. However, if you decide to tell someone about your goal, you will feel a sense of obligation and accountability. If you don’t follow through, you will feel like you’ve let everyone down. This sense of guilt is actually often more powerful than self-motivation! Plus, when you do succeed, the people you shared with will celebrate with you!

 

  1. Automate where possible

Nowadays there are a million different apps and services to help you follow through on your resolutions. These free tools, such as Google Calendar, ToDoist, Boomerang etc., can help provide a constant reminder of what you want to achieve that day.

 

  1. Review your resolutions regularly

Let’s face it, if you are not thinking about your resolution regularly, you are not going to follow through. Therefore, a crucial part of realizing your goal is a regular review. At a minimum, this review should be monthly, but the more frequent the better. A weekly check-in to check progress is the ideal.

 

  1. If you fall off track, get back on the horse quickly.

Keep in mind that little setbacks like skipping a task, missing a goal by 10% (or more), finishing a task late or any other form of ‘’weakness’’ does NOT mean you have failed. You only fail when you stop trying! What’s important is to understand what lead to the setback and how you can avoid them in future. For example: “If I play video games after work, I will not go to the gym. Don’t play video games after work!”

Final comment: Rome wasn’t built in a day! Be patient with yourself and take it one day at a time, one step at a time.

We hope these tips will help you follow through on your resolutions and make 2020 your best year yet. Remember that if learning English is on your list, our team (and our new Personal Coaching program!) are here to help you achieve that goal!

 

Image result for goals quotes

 

Glossary – vocabulary related to GOALS

 

RESOLUTION

a promise to yourself to do or to not do something:

I made a resolution to give up chocolate.

 

ACHIEVE

to succeed in finishing something or reaching an aim:

I’ve been working all day, but I feel as if I’ve achieved nothing.

 

CHALLENGE

something that needs great effort in order to be done successfully and tests a person’s ability:

Finding a solution to this problem is one of the greatest challenges faced by scientists today.

 

GET BACK ON THE WAGON (<=> fall of the wagon)

refraining from any bad habit, e.g. alcohol usage, especially after a period of indulging.

‘’I ate and drank far too much over Christmas, but now I’m getting back on the wagon!’’

 

SUCCEED

to achieve something that you have been aiming for:

She’s been trying to pass her driving test for six years and she’s finally succeeded.

 

FOLLOW THROUGH

to continue something until it is completed:

The city has raised the money for more teachers – now it has to follow through and hire them.

 

STICK WITH

to continue doing something and not stop or change to something else:

He said that he was going to stick with the traditions established by his grandfather.

 

MOTIVATE

to make someone want to do something well:

Teaching is all about motivating people to learn.

 

HABIT

something that you do often and regularly:

I always have biscuits with my coffee – it’s just a habit.

 

SELF-IMPROVEMENT

the activity of learning new things that make you a more skilled person:

In the interest of self-improvement, I took a Spanish course.

 

TACKLE

to try to deal with something, usually a problem:

There are many ways of tackling this problem.

 

PRIORITY

something that is very important and must be dealt with before other things:

My first/top priority is to find somewhere to live.

 

DEADLINE

a time or day by which something must be done:

I’m afraid you’ve missed the deadline – the deadline for applications was 30 May.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

the fact of being responsible for what you do able to give a satisfactory reason for it.

Citizens must demand accountability from their leaders.

 

REALIZE

to achieve something you were hoping for:

Lots of money, a luxury house, a fast car – Danny had realized all his ambitions by the age of 25.

 

PROGRESS

movement to an improved or more developed state, or to a forward position:

I’m not making much progress with my Spanish.

 

GET BACK ON THE HORSE

To return to an activity that you had previously failed at.

I know you’re upset about getting fired, but you need to get back on the horse and start looking for work.

 

SETBACK

something that delays or prevents a process from developing:

Sally had been recovering well from her operation, but yesterday she experienced/suffered a setback.

 

FAIL

to not succeed in what you are trying to achieve or are expected to do:

She moved to London in the hope of finding work as a model, but failed.

 

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…!

All over the world, Christmas is a time to exchange presents, be with family and loved ones, eat good food and have fun. It also means a lot of new English vocabulary, some of which is only used during this season. It’s important to know how to speak about Christmas in English, because many English speakers celebrate the holiday—even if they celebrate it a little differently from each other.

Christmas decorations

One fun thing about Christmas is putting up the decorations – things you put around the house or outside to make your home more attractive for the holidays. Christmas trees have their own kinds of decorations, called ornaments. These decorations can look like anything, but one of the most common Christmas ornaments are shiny ball-shaped decorations that you hang from the tree branches. After you hang all the ornaments, it’s time to put the tinsel on the tree. Tinsel is long strings of shiny strips of foil, usually silver, red or gold.

The tree is not the only bit of nature people bring into their homes for the holidays. Three traditional Christmas plants are holly, poinsettias, and mistletoe. All three come in the colors of Christmas: green and red. Holly and poinsettias are used just as decorations, but mistletoe has a special meaning. Hang one somewhere high, and any two people who stand under the mistletoe together must kiss!

You can bring Christmas cheer outside your home, too, by hanging a wreath on your door. A wreath is a round decoration usually made with leaves and other natural objects like pine cones and flowers.

 

Image result for christmas decorations Image result for christmas tinsel Image result for mistletoe  Image result for wreath

 

Traditional Christmas food and drinks

Traditional Christmas food and drinks are different around the world. Usually there’s a big focus on things that make you feel warm, like hot drinks and spices. Many places have a feast—a large meal eaten in celebration. Many traditional foods are sweet treats. Gingerbread cookies are made from sweet and sticky molasses and the ginger root. Fruitcake is a bread-like cake with candied fruits. If you don’t like fruitcakes, you might prefer a Christmas pudding, which is a creamy brown dessert that uses nuts, raisins and sometimes cherries.

Candy canes are candy sticks curved on the end like a walking stick, usually with red and white stripes. These days candy canes come in many different flavors, but traditionally they taste like peppermint, a type of mint plant with a very fresh smell and taste. In the United Kingdom, another favorite Christmas treat is the mince pie, a small pie made from dried fruit, spices and sometimes cut up meat (“mince” means to cut up meat into very small pieces).

Christmas has some special drinks too, like eggnog, which is made with egg and cream (you either love it or you hate it!). Another common drink is apple cider, a thick apple juice that’s usually served warm with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. Both eggnog and apple cider can be mixed with alcohol for extra warmth.

Image result for gingerbread cookies Image result for mince pie Image result for eggnog Image result for christmas pudding

Spending time with the family

Of course, the best part of Christmas is spending time with your family and people you care about! Families come together at Christmas to enjoy the festivities, meaning to celebrate the happy holiday.

Exchanging presents is a big part of the festivities. Traditionally, everyone puts their presents under the tree, which are then unwrapped on Christmas morning (the 25th). Every family member also gets one stocking – these are big red and white socks, hung up near the tree. Small gifts called ‘stocking stuffers’ are placed inside, like candy or small toys.

Apart from exchanging gifts, some families also go caroling, which is when you sing traditional Christmas songs (called “carols”), or go to church together. And of course, Christmas is also the perfect time to gather round a cozy fire and just chat!

Image result for christmas stockings Image result for christmas caroling

We hope that after reading this you’re all warmed up and ready to celebrate Christmas… in English! The English To Go team wishes you a very merry Christmas and we look forward to seeing you at our school in the new year! 🙂

 

Whether you’re networking, meeting with a customer or simply talking to a colleague at your company’s Christmas party, being able to make small talk is a crucial skill to master – for your professional and personal life! However, we’re well aware that going up to strangers and engaging them in ‘casual’ conversation (even though it never feels casual!) can be challenging in your native language, let alone in a foreign one. Therefore, let us try to make things easier for you with this short guide below, which lists some appropriate small talk topics as well as actual sentences you can use in any small talk situation!

What to talk about

1. Your location or venue

There is no easier way to find common ground – literally! The hotel you’re staying in, the local town, the quality of the conference venue…anything in your surroundings can be a conversation topic!

2. Entertainment

Movies, Netflix, books…you name it! Share what you’ve seen or read yourself and ask for recommendations to get your partner talking!

3. Food

I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love food…which is why it is definitely one of the best small talk topics! If you’re having meals together at the event you’re attending, that makes it even easier. A short comment on the food you’re having can feed into (pun intended!) an endless conversation about favourite restaurants, cooking, etc.

4. Hobbies

Everyone likes to talk about what they love, so showing interest in someone’s passions will give you the chance to connect with them on a deeper level. Ask what they do in their free time, which activities they participate in outside of work (and how they became involved), what their childhood hobbies were versus now, whether they’re taking any classes…the possibilities are endless!

5. Work

This is a tricky one, as most people spend more than enough time talking about their jobs and are desperate to get away from it, but…since we spend so much time at work, the majority of people will have something to say on the topic!

6. The weather

This is a classic of course. Not the most riveting conversation-starter, but with a little creativity it can still lead to interesting discussions!What’s the weather like in your hometown? Do you like this type of weather? (this might start a discussion about their personality, which can be fun and interesting). If you could choose to live anywhere based on the weather conditions, where would it be? Weather doesn’t have to be a boring topic!

7. Travel

Who doesn’t like to talk about holidays? Past adventures or future plans, travel is always a great topic that speaks to the imagination! Make sure you have some follow-up questions, such as what foods (there’s that oldie but goodie again!) they’re most excited to try or what souvenirs they’re planning to bring home!

What to say exactly

Ok, so now you have some topics, but what exactly should I say to start the conversation?? Fear not, we have put together a list of conversation starters for you!

Some examples that never fail (in logical order, i.e. start with the first one, then work your way through the list to keep the conversation going!):

“So how did you end up at [name of event]?
“Are you a long way from home?”
‘’Is it your first time in [country/city]?’’
“Have you been enjoying this [name of event] so far?”
‘’Has the weather been this [good/terrible] in your hometown as well?’’
“Would you recommend that [food or drink they’re holding]?”
“Have you seen any good movies / read any good books lately?’’
“How did you end up working in [field of work]? Are you happy with your choice so far?’’
‘’What do you like to do outside of work?’’
‘’Do you have any plans for [the summer / Christmas / etc ]?’’

General tips

Last but not least, some general tips for small talk!

• Ask open questions: yes/no questions don’t get you very far!
• Small talk is not about saying brilliant things – it’s just about showing interest in the other person and finding things in common
• Practise active listening: you’ll find it much easier to keep the conversation going if you genuinely listen to the other person
• Put away your phone – it seems obvious, but looking at your phone is a definite no-no! You want to seem interested and engaged, not bored!
• Have fun! Even though making small talk can be daunting, you can actually end up having some great conversations with interesting people, so embrace these opportunities!

Hopefully having these topics and conversation starters up your sleeve will make feel a little less anxious next time you have to walk into an unknown environment, whether it’s at work or in your personal life! And as always, we’ll sign off by letting you know that the English To Go team is here to help if you feel you need more coaching with this or any other English-related topic!

 

GLOSSARY

APPROPRIATE (adj)
suitable or right for a particular situation or occasion:
Is this film appropriate for small children?

(FIND) COMMONG GROUND (idiom)
shared interests, beliefs, or opinions between two people or groups of people:
It seems increasingly unlikely that the two sides will find any common ground.

SURROUNDINGS (n)
the place where someone or something is and the things that are in it:
Some butterflies blend in with their surroundings so that it’s difficult to see them.

FEED INTO (phrasal verb)
to have an effect on something or help to make it happen
The influence of Italian designer fashion feeds into sports fashion.

PUN (n)
a humorous use of a word or phrase that has several meanings or that sounds like another word:
This is a well-known joke based on a pun: “What’s black and white and red (= read) all over?” “A newspaper.”

DESPERATE (adj)
needing or wanting something very much:
They are desperate for help.

RIVETING (adj)
extremely interesting:
It was a riveting story

OLDIE BUT GOODIE (idiom)
something that may be old or dated, but is still considered of high quality or a classic.
This song is an oldie but goodie.

FAIL (v)
to not succeed in what you are trying to do:
She moved to London in the hope of finding work as a model, but failed.

GENUINELY (adv)
really and sincerely:
I’m genuinely sorry for what I said.

OBVIOUS (adj)
easily seen, recognized, or understood:
For obvious reasons, he needs to find work soon.

EMBRACE (v)
to accept something enthusiastically:
This was an opportunity that he would embrace.

HAVE SOMETHING UP YOUR SLEEVE (idiom)
to have secret plans or ideas:
If I know Mark he’ll have one or two tricks up his sleeve.

A question that I (and every other English trainer) often get is ‘’how can I learn to think faster in English? When I’m speaking, the words just don’t come to me fast enough!’’

If only we could just implant a chip in our brain or (maybe a bit less drastic…?) take a pill to help us speak fluently without having to do anything for it, right? Or even just a set of rules we could learn, a certain number of words we could memorize? Most language learners are constantly looking for a magic trick, or at least a straightforward, well-defined technique or formula. But those of you who’ve been doing it for a while will probably have reached the disappointing conclusion that there is no such thing. The hard truth is, unless you have some sort of language-learning superpower (which some polyglots seem to have!), it takes hard work, discipline and repetition.

What does that mean in practice? Here are my ideas on what really helps to become fluent in English, i.e. to be able to speak without thinking (too much).

  • Engage with English EVERY DAY – through language apps, television, reading, music, talking to someone, etc. For how long is not really relevant, 10 minutes a day can be just as effective as one hour. Short on time? Make the most of ‘dead time’, i.e. when you’re on public transport, in a waiting room, waiting for a friend, etc.
  • Learn at least one new word every day (by getting daily exposure to English this should be easy!), then write it down and USE it as soon as you can!
  • Use an English-English dictionary to look up new vocabulary. This will stop your brain from non-stop translating, which only takes up more brain power. If you keep translating every time you come across a new word or even worse, every time you speak, you will never ‘flick the switch’, i.e. stop thinking in your own language and start thinking in English.
  • Review new vocabulary as often as you can, but at least once a week! Language apps and online dictionaries are great for this as they often have a ‘quiz’ function.
  • Talk to yourself in English (yes, out loud – do it when no one is around if you’re worried about looking like a crazy person! ?) and even role-play situations and conversations with yourself. Even better would be to record yourself, so you can hear how you sound and where you can improve (of course, a teacher or conversation partner would be hugely helpful in this case).
  • Test yourself all the time: when you’re on the train, out shopping, walking down a street….look around you at all the things you see and ask yourself: ‘’what’s that in English?’
  • TALK to people (preferably native speakers but anyone willing to speak English will do!). You can learn as much vocabulary and grammar as you like, it won’t get you anywhere unless you USE it as often as possible. Learning a language is like going to the gym: those muscles won’t get stronger if you only train them once a month! More importantly, regular speaking practice is so important to build that CONFIDENCE which we all lack (I know the feeling!). So, get out there and find a conversation group, a tandem partner, a language class, an English-speaking barista at your local café …any situation that will allow you to speak the language will help!

I’m not saying it’s easy….I’m not saying you have to do it….I’m saying that if you REALLY want to learn that language, this is what you will have to do. It’s not rocket science; all it takes is a bit of willpower and discipline.

Do you find it hard to motivate yourself to make a plan like this and/or stick to it? Why not sign up for language coaching at our school? Language coaching means that we combine distance learning (daily exercises for you to do in your own time) with face-to-face lessons for maximum results. You will sit down with one of our teachers, who will help you make a 100%-customized learning plan, based on your existing knowledge and skills. As always, we are here to help you achieve your goals!

 

GLOSSARY

(since I just told you to stop translating I’m doing an English-English one this week, no translating! ?)

IMPLANT (v)

to put (eg human tissue, a device etc) permanently into a part of the body

The operation to implant a new kidney in her body had been a success.

DRASTIC (adj)

(especially of actions) severe and sudden or having very noticeable effects:

drastic measures

STRAIGHTFORWARD (adj)

without difficulties or complications; simple

a straightforward task

WELL-DEFINED (adj)

clearly expressed, explained, or described

We were not expecting Mr Levy to give us a clear or well-defined answer.

ENGAGE (v) something/someone

to become involved, or have contact, with someone or something

She’s an intelligent child but in class she doesn’t really engage.

POLYGLOT (n)

someone who can speak or use several different languages

My tutor’s something of a polyglot – she speaks seven languages.

EXPOSURE (n)

the conditions that make available an opportunity to learn or experience new things.

We got more exposure to the Japanese language talking to our colleagues at dinner time.

ROLE-PLAY (n)

to pretend to be someone else, especially as part of learning a new skill:

Children play with dolls and role-play to learn about empathy and caring.

PREFERABLY (adv)

if possible:

Water the plants twice a week, preferably in the morning.

(it’s not) ROCKET SCIENCE (idiom)

used to say that you do not think that something is very difficult to do or to understand:

My coach always said, “Basketball is not rocket science. It’s about putting the ball in the basket.”

WILLPOWER (n)

the ability to control your own thoughts and the way in which you behave:

It took a lot of willpower to stay calm.

 

 

 

I’ll never forgot the time when I was talking to a classmate and told her that a friend of mine had ‘’shot herself in the foot’’. My classmate gasped, shocked, and asked if my friend was OK? Was she in hospital? I laughed and reassured her that my friend had not actually taken a gun and shot herself in the foot – it’s an expression meaning ‘to spoil a situation for yourself’.

I know for a fact that my classmate was not the first person to be embarrassed by this kind of misunderstanding – the English language is so full of tricky idioms that – as a non-native speaker – you are bound to fall for one at some point.

Tricky as they may be, understanding idioms is an essential skill for anyone doing business in English, because they are commonly used throughout the business world. Now don’t think that after reading this blog post you’ll be able to understand and fluently use every English idiom under the sun – there are simply to many to learn in one go. The goal of this blog post is simply to get you started by giving you an overview of the most common business English.

Let’s take a look…

 

IDIOM MEANING EXAMPLE
Back to square one To start something over again because a previous attempt failed To make this software finally work, we have to go back to square one.
Ballpark number/figure A very inexact estimate To give you a ballpark figure, how much the border wall to Mexico is going to cost, I’d say about 30 million dollars.
Get down to business Stop making small talk and start talking about serious business topics Now that everyone’s here, let’s get down to business and start with the presentation.
Go the extra mile To do more than what people expect To give our customers the best shopping experience, we go the extra mile.
Hands are tied Not being free to behave in the way that you would like I’d love to help you, but my hands are tied.
In a nutshell Using as few words as possible In a nutshell, we will run out of cash in three months time.
In full swing At a stage when the level of activity is at its highest Construction of our new production site is in full swing now.
Keep one’s eye on the ball To give something one’s full attention and to not lose focus We should not diversify our product offering too much, but rather keep our eyes on the ball.
Learn the ropes Learn the basics of something (e.g. a job) I’m learning the ropes in my new position.
Long shot Something that has a very low probability of happening Winning the lottery is a long shot.
No-brainer Something that is really obvious or easy Making money working for an investment bank is a no-brainer.
No strings attached Something is given without involving special demands or limits They will let you try the product for free with no strings attached.
On the same page To be in agreement about something Let’s go over the contract details once more to make sure we’re on the same page.
Put all one’s eggs in one basket To rely on only one thing to bring success It’s not smart to invest in American tech stocks only and put all one’s eggs in one basket.
Raise the bar To set standards or expectations higher The iPhone raised the bar for smartphone makers.
Red tape Official rules and processes that seem excessive and unnecessary The new law is going to create a lot of red tape.
Safe bet Something that is certain to happen It’s a safe bet that computer processor speed will more than triple within the next 10 years.
Same boat To be in the same difficult situation as someone else None of us has any money left, so we’re all in the same boat.
See eye to eye To agree with somebody My boss doesn’t see eye to eye with me about our marketing campaign.
Shoot something down To reject something (e.g. an idea or a proposal) You shouldn’t shoot down your co-workers ideas during a brainstorming session.
Talk someone into / out of something To convince someone to do / not to do something I was reluctant to redesign our website, but my employees talked me into it.
The elephant in the room An obvious problem or controversial issue that no one wants to discuss. We should have discussed our pending litigation, but no one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room.
Think outside the box To think of creative, unconventional solutions instead of common ones. Our current approach will get us nowhere. We have to think outside the box.
Touch base To make contact with someone. I will touch base with you later today.
Up in the air Something is undecided or uncertain Our international expansion plan is still up in the air.
Uphill battle Something that is difficult to achieve because of obstacles and difficulties Gaining market share in this country will be an uphill battle due to tough competition.
Word of mouth Something is given or done by people talking about something or telling people about something Many local stores rely on word of mouth to get new customers.

Source: https://www.topcorrect.com/blog/50-common-business-idioms/

 

In a nutshell, although learning idioms may seem like an uphill battle, it’s a no-brainer: there’s no way around it! Keep your eye on the ball and remember that other English learners are in the same boat as you! ?